Vol. XLIII No. 09 March 04, 2019

India-Pakistan: De-escalate the Situation

THE aerial strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed run camp in Balakot in Pakistan was conducted to send an effective message that India will not tolerate terrorist attacks such as in Pulwama, sponsored from across the border.  The extent of the success of the operation, in terms of destroying the militant base, is yet to be established.  The reputed international defence monitoring media agency, Jane’s Information Group, has termed the claims about the operation’s success as “speculative”. However, the fact that the Indian Air Force struck deep inside Pakistan territory itself represented a significant military intervention, since it crossed the boundaries of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.  
The retaliation by Pakistan, the next day, through an aerial attack across the Line of Control (LoC) led to an aerial combat with Indian Air Force fighters.  Both sides lost a plane each in the encounter. The Indian pilot of the downed MiG-21, Wing Commander Abhinandan, bailed out to the other side of the LoC and is now in Pakistani custody. There was mortar shelling from both sides in the Rajouri and Poonch sectors and villages on the border have been affected.  
Thus, there has been a quick escalation at the military level between the two countries.  This is a dangerous situation and immediate steps should be taken to de-escalate the confrontation.  
India had made progress on the diplomatic front by taking up the Pulwama attack effectively with the major countries of the world. The United Nation’s Security Council adopted a resolution strongly condemning the Pulwama attack and naming the JeM as the perpetrator.  The resolution called for the organisers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to be made accountable and bring them to justice. The United Nations also called upon all countries to take firm steps to prevent such terrorist activities. 
It is now up to India to continue with the efforts on the diplomatic and political front to put further pressure on Pakistan to act against the JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other extremist groups. India has already handed over a dossier on the JeM’s role in the Pulwama attack and its other activities to Pakistan.  
In last week’s editorial, we had argued that apart from the incentive of electoral gains for the ruling party, it is doubtful whether military action will serve the strategic purpose of curbing terrorism from across the border.  
The behavior of the prime minister and the BJP president Amit Shah, in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, only served to illustrate the point that  calls for revenge and retaliation in the name of the martyrs of Pulwama was being assiduously made to whip up sentiments and to make political capital.  Even after the aerial strike, Amit Shah promptly declared in a public meeting that this was possible because there was a BJP government and not a gathbandhan government.  
The BJP-RSS combine has been active in rousing jingoism.  Most of the television channels have been calling for retribution and military action. The action and counter-action that took place on February 26-27 are a sober reminder of the dangers of escalation leading to war.
The Modi government’s basic failure in Jammu & Kashmir is the root cause for the continuing violence and terrorism there. The past nearly five years have been barren of any political initiative to begin a political process for arriving at a settlement of the Kashmir issue. On the contrary, the BJP played a disruptive role in feeding communal sentiments and raking up sensitive issues such as Article 35A.  The heavy hand and the crackdown undertaken after the Pulwama attack will only further worsen the situation.
The Modi government and the BJP must immediately stop treating the Kashmiri people as pawns in its political game. It must take immediate steps to lessen tensions and bring back normalcy. The fight against terrorism cannot serve narrow political ends. The country has to gear up for the gigantic democratic exercise ahead – the Lok Sabha election.  
(February 27, 2019)